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Choosing the Best Toys this Holiday Season

October 16, 2012

Almost everyone can look back on their childhood and remember a toy that made a positive impact on their lives. Whether it was a train set, stuffed animal, building blocks or baby doll, toys helped you learn and play as a child. As a parent, selecting the right toy for your child isn’t as simple as visiting the store and grabbing something off the shelf. These days, some toys contain harmful and toxic chemicals like BPA or lead, and other toys present choking and safety hazards for the youngest children in your home. The best toys are healthy, safe, durable and enable kids learn and explore the world around them. Follow these simple guidelines the next time you visit the toy store to ensure that you purchase the right toys for your children.
1.  Buy Healthy and Safe Toys.  Even though you can’t control everything your child is exposed to in the outside world, you can control what your child plays with at home. Many toy companies use toxic additives such as: PVC, phthalates, and BPA in their manufacturing process. These toxic chemicals present health risks to children of any age and have resulted in numerous toy recalls throughout the years. The easiest way to eliminate toxic toys from your home is to purchase toys from reputable stores (see our list below), and check toy recalls.
            Another thing to keep in mind is the age-appropriateness of a toy. Many families have more than one young child in their home, and although a toy may be appropriate for an 8-year-old, it could present a choking hazard for an infant, toddler or child. Be careful about which toys you allow your youngest kids to play with, and keep in mind these tips when choosing toys for your youngest kids:

Infants to 1-year-olds

  • Since this age group is notorious for putting toys in their mouths, make sure all buttons or small parts are dull and securely fastened. It is also important to remove any ribbons or strings from these toys as well.

1 to 3-year-olds

  • Children in this age group are reckless explorers and have no regard for danger. Therefore, close supervision should be standard while these children play.
  • Choose toys made out of cloth or other soft materials to avoid accidental injury. Make sure any pull-string toys do not have strings longer than 7 inches, and building block toys are too large to swallow.

3 to 5-year-olds

  • Choking on small parts is still an issue with this age group, so choose large building blocks and sturdy toys that do not have small removable parts.
  • This age group loves to play dress-up, so beware of costumes with sharp fasteners that could fall off or get caught in your little ones hair.

5 to 9-year-olds

  • At this point, parents can begin to introduce more complex toys with smaller parts (still beware of choking hazards). Legos, Polly Pockets, Light Brite, and Link-N-Logs are popular among this age group, and depending upon the child, these toys are now age appropriate.
  • Care should be taken to keep younger children in the home away from these “big kid” toys, as they present numerous safety risks. If your younger child is adamant about playing with these “big kid” toys, allow them to do so under strict supervision and teach them how to play safely. Care should be taken to ensure that “big kid” toys aren’t left lying around the house as curious youngsters may be tempted to play when you’re away. This is a great opportunity to teach the older kids about responsibly picking up after themselves.

2. Select Durable Toys that Aid in Learning and Exploration.  The best toys are created from organic materials like wood, metal and cotton. Not only are these toys less likely to cause health problems, they are durable, easy to fix and may be passed down for generations. Flimsy plastic toys are often poorly made and easily broken. Remember that kids can be rough with their toys, and the best play things should be built to withstand a few years of rough treatment. Accidents happen, and fragile toys are rendered useless if they’re dropped on pavement, run over by a car, or left out in poor weather for too long. When these toys break, they can shatter into hundreds of sharp pieces, or simply make a child upset that they have to throw away one of their favorite play things.
Durability, health and safety are important when choosing a toy for your child, but the most important aspect of a toy is the lessons it can teach your child. The most useful toys on the market combine learning and fun. Try to select toys that encourage education and entertainment, such as read aloud books, memory games, and building blocks for spatial learning. Your child’s brain is hungry for knowledge and everything you allow your child to play with can have a positive impact on their development.
In the end, the truth is that everything your child encounters may be interpreted as a toy. Their brains are hungry for knowledge and full of imagination, so an empty box becomes a spaceship, and a wooden spoon can transform your little one into a world-class drummer. Kids will try to play with anything they can get their hands on, so it’s important that you supply them with toys that enhance their learning, but are also safe, healthy and durable.
To Encourage Shopping Locally Here’s Our List of Some KidScore Top Toy Stores:

Seattle

Bay Area

Portland

New York

Austin

Most stores are up to date on the latest recalls, if you buying online you should check  toy recalls before purchasing a new toy: http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/

Got a favorite toy store in your city you’d like to see on the next list?  Write a review on KidScore to tell us more.

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